Go back

Research engagement #3 to Buenos Aires, Argentina

Cathleen Berger, Charlotte Freihse, Dominik Hierlemann
27. November 2023 – 30. November 2023


Focus: Civil society mobilisation, citizen participation, and power dynamics

In partnership with Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC), Upgrade Democracy’s third research engagement took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The mission: to explore strategies and initiatives countering disinformation in the Latin American context with over 30 stakeholders from ten countries in the region. The two-day workshop brought together fact-checkers, journalists, academics, lawyers, government officials, and representatives of civil society groups, to identify major challenges for a unified approach and build common ground for future collaborative actions. This was followed by two days of bilateral meetings with representatives of the Electoral Chamber, foreign embassy officials, media representatives, and civil society organisations.

A summary of our findings, insights, and impressions follows below. The workshop summary is also available in PDF format, downloadable at the bottom of the page.

27. November 2023 Setting the stage: Disinformation in Latin America – its spread and impact

The 2-day workshop took place in a unique setting. The participants discussed democracy, freedom of the press, and the impact disinformation can have on the two, only one week after a groundbreaking vote had taken place: On November 19th, Argentinians had elected Javier Milei, a self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist and political outsider, as their new president.

The Argentinian elections posed an adequate backdrop for the unfolding of the discussion since disinformation, spread by governments and political actors, is frequent across Latin America, as illustrated by the preliminary research findings, the ADC team shared to set the stage.

Besides Argentina, cases from Mexico, Venezuela, Peru and Brazil were showcased. Many participants underlined how the lack of a stable and pluralistic media landscape in their countries favours disinformation, thereby complicating counteractive efforts.

Similarly, the importance of social media platforms and the companies behind them became evident:  WhatsApp for instance has usage levels of up to 100% in countries like Panama and Brazil, followed by TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter). Discussants explained their difficulties in monitoring WhatsApp due to the closed nature of the service and pointed to the problematic nature of zero-rating practices.

All participants called for stricter regulation of platforms to guarantee more transparency by, for example, obliging the companies to grant researchers more access. But it became clear that regulatory efforts across the region are currently limited to the national level with mixed results. The willingness of the platforms to collaborate with governments or civil society actors varies greatly across the region, depending on the relevance of the individual country for the platform’s possible revenue.

The first day concluded with a case study by Linterna Verde from Colombia, who countered disinformation during the 2022 Colombian elections by monitoring its spread and publishing fact-checks. This led to a discussion about the problems all participants encounter when trying to interact with platforms and the immense workload associated with it. Media literacy education was presented as a possible solution to the problem.

28. November 2023 Countering disinformation: regional initiatives, regulatory approaches and ways forward

On the second day the participants delved deeper into three national case studies: Contextual monitored right-wing disinformation during the Argentinian elections by focusing on the behaviour of the political actors. Their reports about disinformation tendencies were picked up by traditional journalists and spread to a larger audience. While most of the data they collected must yet be analysed scientifically, their work suggests that the quality of the disinformation content is not an indicator for its success: even recognisable “cheap fakes” will be shared widely if the users like the message they carry.

Chequeado, an internationally acclaimed fact-checking organisation from Argentina, on the other hand, focuses on technology to streamline their work. They monitor traditional and social media for false information, inform their community about them with chatbots and (auto) fact-check presidential debates in real time. They have successfully countered disinformation during the Argentinian elections to a point where the candidates referenced Chequeados’ checks in their statements.

Third up was Aos Fatos from Brazil who are monitoring disinformation, debunking it, and raising awareness about disinformation tactics. For instance, on a technical level, Aos Fatos recently created FatimaGPT, an open-AI-based chatbot that is trained exclusively on the database of the organisation and so far, has not tapped into common AI-language model flaws, such as hallucinating.

The discussion of the three good practices showed that while technological solutions and AI can facilitate fact-checking work greatly, the human factor cannot be dismissed. Only the combination of technology and human work leads to reliable results. Other common topics were the problematic conditions of the media landscapes in most countries with media concentration and extremely precarious working conditions for journalists, all of which contribute to the dissemination of disinformation.

Lastly, the participants discussed the role of government regulation in the countering of    disinformation, and it became apparent that much work remains to be done. Regulation for platforms exists only in few countries such as Brazil, but even where it exists, it isn’t necessarily respected by the companies operating the platforms. Discussants appealed to the plenum to form regional alliances and to not feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that remains to be done. As possible ways forward the adaptation of existing laws from similar contexts was mentioned as well as the need to start with any kind of regulation, as small as it may seem in the beginning.

On-site bilateral meetings

Following the workshop, the team had the chance to meet for several in-depth conversations with the election authority in Argentina, the office of the Argentinian ombudsperson for the media, the department for politics and human rights of the German embassy, and Tobias Käufer, Latin America correspondent for German media.

The bilateral meetings focused on the Argentinean elections and the disinformation during the electoral process. It became apparent that, while disinformation was present during all phases and played a far greater role than in past elections, it did probably not influence the election result significantly. The unexpected victory of outsider Milei was presented as a protest vote; an attempt to change the desolate outlook on the future of a large part of the Argentinian population that suffers under inflation rates of up to 150%, a 40% poverty rate, and over a decade without economic growth.

While the reasons for Milei’s win were analysed clearly, the outlook remains opaque: Since Milei has altered some of his positions significantly since his election, the observers were unsure about what is to come. Among civil society organisations, the fear of the repression of free speech and the violent suppression of anti-government protests was omnipresent, others preferred to wait for Milei’s first moves after his inauguration on December 10th to make predictions.

All observers agreed that Milei was appointed by the Argentine people solely to stop the economic downward spiral – an immensely difficult task on which his political survival depends entirely.

Observations and Key Takeaways


Download summary as PDF